Display shootout: Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPads vs. Android Tablets

Display shootout: Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPads vs. Android Tablets

Summary: An internationally recognized display expert has posted an in-depth shoot-out comparing the displays of the Surface RT, iPad 2, iPad 3, and Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the results may surprise you.

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Display shootout: Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPads vs. Android Tablets - Jason O'Grady (image: CNET)

Before Surface for Windows RT began shipping, Microsoft's Steven Bathiche said that "Microsoft has the best pixel rendering technology in the industry," subtly implying that the Surface display might be superior to the display in the iPad. Naturally this started a flame war between opposing camps with Apple users doubting that a 1366 x 768, 148 PPI display could best the almighy iPad's 2048 x 1536, 264 PPI.

Now that the Surface is shipping, Dr. Ray Soneira President of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation, pits all the top tablet displays against each other in his latest shoot-out.

So, how good is the Microsoft Surface RT display compared to the iPads and Android Tablets? Here is part of his conclusion:

The display on the Microsoft Surface RT outperforms all of the standard resolution full size 10 inch Tablets that we have tested in our Display Shoot-Out series. The Lab tests and measurements documented in the Shoot-Out Comparison Table indicate that Microsoft has paid a lot of attention to display performance for the Surface RT. In particular, on-screen text is significantly sharper, it has a better factory display calibration, and also significantly lower screen Reflectance than the iPad 2 and all full size 1280x800 Android Tablets. But it is not as sharp as the iPad 3 or 4, nor does it have their large full Color Gamut. We'll have to wait for the high resolution Windows Pro Tablets that will be launching in early 2013 for direct comparisons with the high resolution iPads and Android Tablets. This is a great start for Windows Tablets and brings much needed competition to the Tablet marketplace. In addition, many other manufacturers will be launching their own branded Windows RT and Pro Tablets - we'll include the best of them in future Mobile Display Shoot-Outs.

Soneira gives the Surface RT pretty high marks, but the iPad 3 and 4 still win in text sharpness. Undoubtedly both sides will declare victory.

One thing that stands out to me is that Apple loses a lot of ground in many comparisons because of its overly glossy displays. According to Soneira, "even in moderate ambient lighting the image contrast and colors can noticeably degrade from ambient light reflected by the screen" noting that reflection has the effect of "washing out the images and colors and producing distracting mirror reflections superimposed on the screen."

If reflectance is such an important factor in determining real world picture quality, why does Apple continue to ship super-glossy displays? Is it because they look better in the showroom or something? Does Apple even care about screen reflectance or is it blinded by its own success?

If you're considering the purchase of a tablet I highly recommend that you read Soneira's complete Surface RT Display Technology Shoot-Out.

Topics: Apple, Android, Google, iPad, Microsoft

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69 comments
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  • Why does Apple ship super-glossy displays?

    you answered your own question: because it looks better in the showroom. And when sitting on the table but turned off.

    Apple is about looks, and shiny looks better/newer/fresher.
    Watch people in line spending money: they spend the dirty coins first, holding on to the shinier ones. when you repaint a patio chair, do you use flat paint, or gloss?

    It doesn't matter if the screen is less usable outdoors because it's glossy, people will attribute that to all screens. What is important is how you perceive it even when it's not in use, too.

    Apple feels it's important enough to use glossy screens no matter the inconvenience, because they understand the importance to gloss finishes.

    Why do you think the placed glass on the back of their phones?
    DontUseGoogleAtAll!
    • Ha

      Importance? I'll take functionality over it looking cute in the show room any day. They make it glossy because in America we are gullible enough to waste our money on image over quality. Plague of the hipsters.
      Erik Butler
      • Thats for sure

        Apple probably sells most of its products based off the "Hip" factor. How many of those millions even care about the hardware or software? Its an image thing and that's sad. I prefer to go with performance and functionality when I purchase any tech, auto or machinery. You need great software and great hardware to win my hard earned dollars. Surface RT has a great design, beautiful display and the best Mobile OS experience so guess what? MS earned my dollars.
        Rob.sharp
        • iSheep are just Hipsters looking for a ticket to Hipsterville

          Rob is so right. I went to the local Apple store and it was crawling with skinny jeans, thick-rimmed glasses, bed heads wearing sweaters over button-down shirts. And they were all like, Do you have anything "Hip" for sale? And the Apple employee was all, Would you like to hear about the hardware or the software? And the hipsters were all like, No way man, it looks good, just ring me up bro. I was disgusted. iSheep sicken me.
          gregv2k
          • And another one bites the dust

            I think we broke gregv2k.
            toddbottom3
          • Dude let's do this!

            You converted me, and now we're totally on the same team. Let's get busy! There are hoardes of undecided voters wondering "which tablet is right for me?" and you and I are going to get them on board with Microsoft Surface With Windows RT Trademark. You and I are going to hit every comment board at ZDNet and we will not stop until we've spread the gospel. Because we're just a couple of regular guys who dig good computers and we know what's good for others. Let's go!!
            gregv2k
          • Ok....

            Now, I'm scared...
            TheWerewolf
          • iSheep, winSheep, gSheep, linSheep... Get a life already!

            All sheep sicken all thinking people. It doesn't matter if you are an iSheep or an m$Sheep. There are people buying (insert brand name here) because they don't know any better, or maybe they do. Ideally, everyone would make a thoughtful and informed buying decision, but it just isn't always so.

            I was at someone's house the other day, (on an unrelated topic,) and we started discussing phones and computers. She and her husband are Mac and iPhone users, because they are tech illiterate. They didn't choose them for the "cool" factor, they choose them because they are easier to use. (They are, and it doesn't matter if you approve or agree.)

            I do not choose to use them because I like to tinker with my toys. I care about specs and performance and price/value. I use Windows computers because I like it. I use an Android phone because I like it. I am not in any hurry to upgrade to Windows 8 or RT because I do not like them as much. There is something for everyone, and everyone has to make their own decision for themselves, informed or not. There is no right or wrong.

            This article is about different screen technologies. It isn't about who you think is dumb for using the "other" brand. Please stop turning every conversation into a pro-(your brand) anti-(other brand) pi$$ing contest. It gets old!
            mlashinsky@...
    • amusing

      None of your arguments make any sense.

      You can be certain, that the moment Apple are able to get hold of matte display, that has the same characteristics as the glossy one -- they will switch to it.

      Did you by any chance notice that the iPhone 5 has a new display arrangement, where reflectance is significantly reduced. Apparently, that is welcomed and you can bet that any of the devices Apple makes next will use the same technology.

      Apple does this on purpose of course. They use cutting edge technology, that provide them with even small edge, but is too difficult and expensive for their competitors to use, because, most people subscribe to the idea 'anything goes'.
      danbi
      • That still doesn't disprove anything I've said

        the bottom line is that humans choose a shiny item over that of a flat item when offered on identical products. Cloths excluded, but they still augment them with shiny jewlery.

        Shiny objects send the impression of newer, or better. I can guaranty that's why their screens are glossy, and my arguments make perfect sense since studies have backed this up.
        DontUseGoogleAtAll!
        • No, that is NOT THE BOTTOM LINE.

          There are verifiable, concrete reasons most people perceive glossy displays as superior, and they have NOTHING to do with them being shiny.
          Just 'cause you say something loud enough, and claim there are "studies that back this up" does not make it so. How about you cite THESE studies, in addition to your answers to my challenge above?
          .DeusExMachina.
    • haha

      I have something that apple can gloss
      kikax
      • No one is impressed

        .DeusExMachina.
      • It's to small....

        It's to small. Apple won't take the time. You will have to polish it yourself. But don't rub to hard you don't want to chaff it.
        mocnarf
    • Make stuff up much?

      Not a SINGLE thing you wrote is based on anything other than your delusions. Let's see citations to Apple marketing meetings, or surveys that prove your point. Good luck with that.
      Instead, you take you ignorance about display tech and from your total lack of knowledge, postulate possible explanations for motivations whose real answers are beyond your rather limited ability to comprehend. Case in point, why Apple (and just about EVERY PC and display manufacturer has moved the majority of their line to glossy displays. The truth is, the market has moved that direction because most customers prefer them, but the real question is why. Is it because, as you and your clueless ilk (Erik Butler, Todd Bottom, and the massively and predictably misinformed Rob Sharp) claim, that people are sheep (why you claim sheep are attracted to shiny object is beyond me, perhaps you meant magpies or crows?) or because there is a subjective reason that the average person perceives the picture on glossy screens as superior. In fact, there are several reasons why these displays appear to show a far superior picture than matte displays in the right lighting environment, and I am full conversant in these reason. I will, however hold off on explaining these to you, in lieu of you actually taking the time to google the answer instead of just spewing your ill-informed bile without bothering to check your facts first.
      .DeusExMachina.
  • nook HD

    I was blown away at the pixel density and resolution of the Nook hd.
    D.J. 43
  • This is exactly what I wrote earlier

    If you will only ever use your tablet under laboratory controlled lighting conditions, get the iPad.

    If you will use your tablet under many different types of lighting conditions, get the Surface RT.

    I got the Surface RT.
    toddbottom3
    • And of course, as we all know

      you needs and requirements are the same as the 7 billion other people on this Earth and so, therefore, whatever suits you must suit the rest of us . . . NOT!
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • Thats is why

        YOu have restricted access
        Jitendra Singh G
    • you forgot one requirement toddy

      You also need a flat sturdy surface, such as a desk top in order to use the Surface RT.

      But, please, use whatever works for you, whatever you can afford, or whatever you are forced to use by your employer. Just don't whine :)
      danbi